My advice to all future and seasoned pilots: “I don’t care how good you think you are, there needs to be 100% focus on take-offs and landings.” If not, you may learn the hard way… This is an article that illustrates my near death experience.
What I Learned About Flying – Use Right Rudder When Taking Off
By Charles W. Gebhardt
A pilot’s first solo is always a memorable event. Mine was nearly deadly. I made mistakes that put me into a serious situation. Although low on experience, perhaps my education and training allowed me to escape without a scratch.
After a tour of duty in Viet Nam, I had orders to Naval Air Station, Lemoore, California. I was a Lieutenant (j.g.) in the Navy assigned as Disbursing Officer (finance). Aviation has always interested me. Not being a Navy trained pilot, I sought out a flying club, the Navy Lemoore Aero Club. They had two new Cessna 150 Commuters, a Cessna 182 Skylane, and a Navy T-34. They were also in financial trouble. Somehow I was elected Treasurer before I joined, and my flying lessons began. My goal was to turn them around financially and get a private pilot license.
My wife and I lived on base housing. Our neighbor was Lieutenant Gary Ross and family. He was an instructor for the A-4 Skyhawk and would be my instructor in the Cessna 150. I remember him being very well organized. He would prepare detailed lesson plans and would expose me to experiences beyond normal training. My training included spins in the Cessna 150 and even time in the A-4 Skyhawk. He would give me every opportunity to scare myself, imprinting lasting impressions on my mind. Like most training, we went through a myriad of stalls. After doing so many, one day I hurried up the process, pulling the nose up abruptly. Imagine my surprise as my instructor anticipated the aircraft being whipped into a stall on its nose. One thing he told me too often was “Right Rudder on Take-off.” That seemed to be a mental block at times. Soon that would become very automatic.
On Sunday, February 20, 1972 it was time to solo. I would fly Cessna 1421Q. Ordinarily we would go to a local FBO, but since it was late Sunday Afternoon, we received permission to use Lemoore’s runway. They have parallel runways, each being 13,500 feet long. I was to do three landings on runway 32R with Lieutenant Ross observing from the ground.
I made a smooth take-off and went around for a very nice landing. I was about to make a series of bad mistakes. First, I fire-walled the power (why? I had 13,500 feet of runway) and the aircraft veered into a left 45 degree angle to the runway. I found myself heading right for the meatball (ILS), which, I recalled, was about five feet high. Thoughts raced through my head very rapidly. I could pull power and hit the right brake or I could hurdle the meatball. I also knew it was a cool day, I had only half of my fuel, and I was minus my 200 pound flight instructor (I weighed 175).
I was taught to rotate at 55 MPH, the main wheels would break the runway at about 65 and I would climb out at 70. I was indicating 40 MPH (not knots) and elected to hurdle the meatball. I didn’t have time to rotate, so I pulled the yoke to my chest and leapt over the meatball. Not wanting to stall straight into the ground, I pushed the yoke over hard and came within inches of the infield grass, picked up airspeed, and got underway. On my climb out I was checking my rudder. It worked just fine. I thought I was standing on it when taking-off. Because I lacked experience in an emergency, I was probably steering with my hands instead of my feet.
I called the tower on my downwind and asked for another touch and go. I thought they would tell me to come down and stay down. However, they granted me another touch-and-go and I handled it beautifully.
I made my final landing and taxied up to Lieutenant Ross. He had a terrified look on his face. He said, “Why didn’t you land after that first touch-and-go. I thought I was going to see my first student going up in flames.” I told him that I was just sticking to the plan that called for three landings. He was not happy with me, but still took a piece of my shirt as the customary first solo ceremony.
I was not cleared to solo that day. On another day we flew to Hanford, a local FBO, for touch-and-go practice. He let me solo again, because he never had to say “RIGHT RUDDER.”
I eventually got my private pilot license and checked out in everything at the Aero Club. Also, the club was now in good financial condition. Having reached both goals, I left the Navy in July, 1972, and began a career as a CPA. I can look back on my first solo with humor, but believe me, no one sitting in the right seat has ever had to tell me to use my right rudder on take-off.